Can you just jump into a mentoring relationship? Does mentoring just happen organically? Maybe sometimes.
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From what I understand, there are different phases in the mentoring process, preparation being the first. There is a plethora of tips on the Internet on how to prepare for mentoring, but is it really that easy? What can we learn from indigenous people’s approach to mentoring?
Many indigenous people look to the long term and more recently consider that their actions can affect up to seven generations. The seven-generation principle is primarily for environmental decisions, but can also apply to relationships. Because of this way of thinking, preparation is perhaps the most important phase in any undertaking. Setting up the mentoring relationship for success is essential, as it may affect other people over the long term.
For Australian indigenous people, mentorship is a two-way mutually-beneficial relationship rather than that of an expert and acolyte. This reciprocal relationship involves attempting to understand each other’s point of view and setting up transparent obligations and expectations.
“I would always begin a relationship by wanting to know what your name is, where in Country you’re connected to and where your ancestors are from. It’s a ‘learning’ for people to talk in a different way. I can feel energies change around the room when we talk like that because we start to see each other as humans rather than colleagues. People are craving to be seen like that.”
Kathryn Coff, a very proud Yorta Yorta Women living on Dja Dja Wurrung Country.
In order to prepare for the mentorship relationship, many indigenous cultures recognize that it is necessary to know yourself. Indigenous ceremonies are often designed to develop or reinforce this self- knowledge and to enable people to grow and make better choices. Many of these ceremonies revolve around improving and accepting responsibility and the ability to listen, essential skills in the mentorship relationship.
The Lakota prepare their young people for what may come as part of continuous improvement. Their exercises are designed to develop empathy. For example, a young Lakota girl learns about parenting in a ceremony where she is given meat to chew and then is required to give it back before eating it. This practice helps her to understand that she may have to go without in order to look after her babies. It is about understanding the values behind her actions and what is important.
The Anishinaabe recognize that preparation for mentoring is complex. They recognize that the mentoring relationship cannot start with nothing. They teach that from the beginning, the mentor needs to be able to practice kindness and to see the value in things in everyday life; and the mentee needs to be open and understand that in order to learn, he or she cannot get mad at what the mentor may say. Anishinaabe approaches to preparation for lifelong mentorship divide preparation into three categories: getting to know the person, learning about that person and committing to the mentorship relationship. Within this preparation phase, each learns, if they can get along and allows each party a means to say no.
These exercises embed values into the continuous improvement process. With these values as a backdrop, the mentor/mentee can enter a relationship for the right reasons, be honest about what they wish to get out of it and understand that it takes work for a successful mentoring relationship. Indigenous mentoring is designed to create a safe environment for experiential learning and begins with a focus on good preparation.
As I have mentioned, I am a continuous learner rather than an expert. I wish to express my continuing gratitude to Dwight Powless for sharing his stories with me. He has shared so many stories about mentoring with me that I can continue with another blog, Learning from Indigenous People for Continuous Improvement: The Mentoring Process. Stay tuned.
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This article is Part 3 of the series: Learning from Indigenous Peoples for Continuous Improvement